A Traditional Japanese World-View “Wabi Sabi” in 3 Questions

Photo by Hiroshi Tsubono on Unsplash

What are the three key characteristics of Wabi-Sabi?

The three key characteristics of Wabi Sabi are imperfection, impermanence and incompletion. Wabi Sabi embraces imperfection, it is against the slick and corporate type of beauty, emphatic to anti-aesthetic. Wabi Sabi embraces incompletion. Even the meaning of Wabi Sabi is not wholly describable in terms of aesthetic reasons, missing knowledge is accepted as the inherent part of Wabi Sabi. Wabi Sabi embraces impermanence. Accepting impermanence is a different aspect of accepting incompletion. Wabi Sabi defends the temporary against the western idealizations of beauty.

What are the three key factors that prevent a rational understanding of Wabi Sabi?

The iemoto system which is the family business of teaching cultural information about arts in Japan. Scholarly studies are controlled by iemoto families who only share the information with the students they choose, the students who can supply money or favor. The other reason is the aesthetic obscurantism which means it’s accepted that the incomplete knowledge of Wabi Sabi according to asthenic reasons is another aspect of incompleteness. The other reason is Zen Buddhism. Because Zen Buddhism and Wabi Sabi are intertwined the meaning of Wabi Sabi is not clear.

Japanese Rock Garden-Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

What are the similarities between Wabi Sabi and Modernism?

The similarities between Wabi Sabi and Modernism are that they are both apply to all manner of man-made objects, spaces and designs; they both are strong reactions against the dominant, established sensibilities of their time; they both avoid any decoration that is not integral to structure; they both are abstract, non-representational ideals of beauty; they both have readily identifiable characteristics. The differences are that modernism is absolute, Wabi Sabi is relative. Modernism expresses faith in progress, in Wabi Sabi there is no progress. Modernism romanticizes technology , Wabi Sabi romanticizes nature. Modernism looks for universal, prototypical solutions, Wabi Sabi looks for personal, idiosyncratic solutions. Modernism is ostensibly slick, Wabi Sabi is ostensibly crude.

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